Don McKinney will be biting his nails as the names are rattled off in the Best Classical Compendium category at the 2019 Grammy Awards on February 10. McKinney, director of bands and professor of conducting at the University of Colorado Boulder College of Music, was nominated on Friday for his work on the album “John Williams at the Movies,” a collection of iconic tracks from movie scores recorded by the classical music ensemble the Dallas Winds.

You’ll likely recognize every tune on this compendium of works first imagined by legendary Hollywood composer John Williams—from the ominous “Imperial March” of The Empire Strikes Back (of the album’s 13 tracks, four are Star Wars classics) to the “Superman March” and the shrill sounds of “Adventures on Earth” that kept you on the edge of your seat in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

McKinney served as a producer for the project. Essentially, this means listening to each take during the recording process to provide the musicians feedback, and then selecting which snippets made it into the final product—or in laymen’s terms, quality control. From recording in 2016 to the album’s release earlier this year, the process took about two years. He credits the honor in no small part to his co-nominee, conductor Jerry Junkin, a respected professor of wind conducting at the University of Texas at Austin Butler School of Music. McKinney says their renditions don’t stray too far from the versions you know from the silver screen, but do reflect Junkin’s artistic sensibility in subtle ways.

“It’s being authentic to what people expect from the movies, mixed in with what [Junkin] is anticipating or how he may hear it a little bit differently,” McKinney says. “Maybe the tempo’s a little bit faster or a little bit slower. That changes the interpretation of the piece just a little bit for listeners.”

McKinney and Junkin’s fruitful partnership began as a fluke. They met while working at the Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan in 2011. Shortly after, a recording producer ducked out of one of Junkin’s projects at the last minute. McKinney, who had no producing experience at the time, filled in to help his new friend. “I was kind of winging it,” McKinney says. “I think the relationship just worked really well. I was able to provide the skills Jerry and the group were looking for, and we just kept doing recordings after that.”

The rest is music history.

You can catch the Grammy-nominee and the CU College of Music colleagues live in action every Tuesday evening at 7:30 p.m. in the Grusin Music Hall on the Boulder campus, free of charge. Find information about upcoming performances here.

Haley Gray
Haley Gray
Haley Gray is a Boulder-based freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in 5280, Roads and Kingdoms, Boulder Magazine, and the Albuquerque Journal.